Peevish Pen

Ruminations on reading, writing, rural living, retirement, aging—and sometimes cats. And maybe a border collie or other critters.

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Location: Rural Virginia, United States

I'm an elderly retired teacher who writes. Among my books are Ferradiddledumday (Appalachian version of the Rumpelstiltskin story), Stuck (middle grade paranormal novel), Patches on the Same Quilt (novel set in Franklin County, VA), Them That Go (an Appalachian novel), Miracle of the Concrete Jesus & Other Stories, and several Kindle ebooks.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Fifth Sally

I just finished Daniel Keye’s novel, The Fifth Sally, originally published in 1980. I’ve been a Keyes fan since I taught his novella Flowers for Algernon to junior high students many years ago. Flowers for Algernon (made into a novel of the same name and then into a mediocre 1968 movie, Charly, which didn’t do it justice) made an impression on the kids. Most loved it.

The premise of Flowers for Algernon intrigued the kids: A mentally retarded man, bullied by co-workers who he thinks are his friends, becomes a genius thanks to an experimental surgical procedure. Then he loses his mental capacities again.

  • The underdog becomes greater than the bullies who tormented him. He doesn’t seek revenge on them. When he reverts to his retarded state, they no longer torment him but protect him. A good lesson for all of us.
  • Scientists can create super beings—beings that nature did not intend to create. Should they do this? (Flowers for Algernon was written before cloning and test tube babies.) Should humans play God?

But I’m digressing. The Fifth Sally is about Sally Porter, who suffers from multiple personality disorder. Only she doesn’t know it—she only knows that she “loses time” after she periodically blacks out, plus she can’t account for the books, art supplies, clothes, etc. in her apartment. Often confused, she doesn’t know about her other personalities: Derry, the “trace” who tries to keep things on an even keel and can communicate with the others, sensual and lascivious Bella who loves to dance; Nola, the suicidal artist and intellect; and Jinx, the vengeful and violent one.

Confused, Sally seeks help from a psychiatrist who finally diagnoses her problem and attempts to fuse the other personalities into Sally—one personality at a time. Nola is fused first to create the second Sally. Bella’s fusion results in the third Sally, etc. Problems, of course, arise with Jinx before she’s successfully fused.

Therein lies a plot problem. With all the havoc Jinx creates, all the blood she causes to flow, all the cars she dents, the cops never come after her. (Well, they chase her for a bit, but she gets away.) The book was written before DNA testing became routine, but still—Jinx left plenty of clues. Also the psychiatrist’s hypnotic regression of Jinx—back to the beginning of time!—didn’t ring true.

Despite the flaws, The Fifth Sally is still a good read. Not a great read, but a good read.

What a shame that The Fifth Sally never made it into paperback and is now out of print. I found this book last November in an antique store in downtown Chatham, and paid $1.50 for it. Money well spent!




Blogger Amy Hanek said...

So you must be reading ALL the time lately! I am working on "Tuesdays with Morrie." Its a fast and easy read, but with information worth digesting slowly.

This book sounds great! I will have to borrow it sometime...

6:20 PM  
Blogger Becky Mushko said...

Not great—but good.

I'll be glad to lend it to you. If you haven't read Sybil, by Flora Rheta Schreiber (or watched the 1976 movie starring Sally Field and JoAnne Woodward), you might want to do that first. Sybil is non-fiction but reads like it's fiction. Good background for The Fifth Sally.

6:58 PM  
Blogger Amy Tate said...

Sounds good! I have a stack of books by my recliner that have been on "hold" since school started. I need more hours in a day Miss Becky!

8:34 AM  

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